Doctor finds guardian OK to stand trial

A state psychiatrist has found Satrina Roberts competent to stand trial for the 2002 torture death of 15-year-old Ciara Jobes, but nevertheless called it "shocking" that state officials gave Roberts custody of the child while she suffered from a severe mental illness.

In a report obtained last night by The Sun, a doctor at the state-run Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center concluded that social service workers knew Roberts was abusing Ciara, but did nothing to stop it.

"Case managers and family members were aware of the difficulties the defendant was having, including her use of physical punishment, yet no intervention was begun," wrote Dr. Stephen Goldberg in the 19-page report.

Ciara's emaciated body was discovered in December 2002 on Roberts' kitchen floor with as many as 700 wounds and bruises. She had been violently sexually abused and forced to use a hole in the wall as a bathroom, according to the evaluation and other court records.

Roberts, Ciara's guardian and godmother, is charged with first-degree murder in the case. Her trial is scheduled for June 14.

The state psychiatrist found that Roberts is a bipolar schizophrenic who consumed three to six alcoholic drinks a day. But he also concluded in the report that she had the ability to control her actions during the five months she kept Ciara locked in a room, beating her and depriving her of food.

"Her beatings were meant as `discipline' including on the night of the offense, and were not the result of a symptom of her illness," Goldberg wrote. "[She] did not evidence a lack of substantial capacity to conform her ability to the requirements of the law."

Additionally, the report found that Roberts, "at the time of the offense, was able to intellectually connect her beating of Ciara with Ciara's unresponsive condition."

Norris P. West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees state social service workers, declined to comment yesterday on the accusations against his department, saying he did not have a chance to review the evaluation.

West also said he did not want to discuss a current criminal case. "I'd rather have justice run its course," West said.

Roberts' lawyer, Warren A. Brown, said he believes his client is not criminally responsible for Ciara's death and plans to hire another doctor to evaluate her mental status.

"Almost any doctor reviewing this psychological evaluation would quickly conclude that placing a child in Satrina Roberts' custody was like placing an atomic bomb in the hands of Osama bin Laden," Brown said. "And yet the only person that is being held responsible is Satrina. I will not stand by and allow her to be the fall guy for the system's failure - a failure that seems to continue even today."

The state's mental evaluation was completed after hours of interviews with Roberts, her family and friends. The psychiatrist and his staff also reviewed police reports, medical documents, and Social Security Administration records.

Offering exhaustive insight into Roberts' life, the evaluation details her mental illness, history of sexual abuse and inability to hold a job. Roberts told the doctor her most recent romantic relationship was with a woman named Kimberly, who was physically abusive.

In interviews with state doctors, Roberts said she often "feared" Ciara, even when Ciara was locked in a room and wasting away from starvation, according to the report.

"She described being afraid that Ciara would `poison her food,' was afraid to allow Ciara behind her out of fear Ciara might try to `stab her' and slept during the day, fearing Ciara would sneak into her room at night to harm her in some way," the report said.

Roberts also told doctors she felt like Ciara was "pulling [her] spirit out," according to the report.

The report indicated that Roberts' "global level of intellectual capabilities falls within the range of mental retardation," although she functioned in her life on a higher level than the tests indicated.

During Ciara's short and tortured life - which was filled with warning signs that the girl was in danger - at least five public agencies had contact with the girl, but all failed to take decisive action to save her, an investigation by The Sun found last year.

Ciara first went to live with Roberts in 1998 at the request of the girl's mother, Jackie Cruse, who later died of AIDS.

The next year, Roberts - who had been receiving federal disability aid since 1995 after being found to suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - was rejected by the Department of Social Services' foster care program.

A caseworker noted in her file that she had been cooperating with the foster program and her application looked promising, but Roberts abruptly stopped contact with the agency, resulting in termination of her application.

Two months later, in January 2000, the agency stood by silently when Roberts exploited a loophole in the system and persuaded a Circuit Court judge to make her Ciara's guardian. After that time, Ciara stopped going to school, was accused of sexually assaulting a younger child and was interviewed by police.

After that, the intense abuse began, culminating in a 15-minute beating in the dark with a leather belt the night before Ciara died, Roberts told The Sun in an interview last year.

Roberts' mental health was not checked by the court or social services before she was given custody, because it was not their policy to do so.

But last month, under pressure from child advocates and state legislators, social services officials said they would reform the agency's largely unregulated process for appointing guardians of abused and neglected children.

The new regulations would include a determination of the physical and mental fitness of the guardian and certification that the home has passed a fire and safety inspection.

Norris West, the spokesman, said last night the regulations were rewritten so "tragedies like Ciara Jobes are far less likely to occur."

About the case

Satrina Roberts is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the December 2002 death of 15-year-old Ciara Jobes. Ciara's emaciated, beaten body was found on Roberts' kitchen floor in Southeast Baltimore. Roberts is scheduled to stand trial this summer.